June 28, 2009

Tilt

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I’ve been playing a little poker since my earlier decision not to play seriously – not much, just a few games now and again. I lost a little, then won a lot, stayed steady for a bit and now I’m on another losing streak. One thing I’ve learnt is that I’m a worse tilter than I thought. I lose most of my games the same way. It seems to be a mental issue and it’s driving me crazy. It would be easy to handle if I thought it was just bad luck or my opponent was a better player.

Here is an example from early in a $2.20 heads-up tournament, too early to get a good read on my opponent.
Board:
Me (BB): $1,440
Them (Button): $1,560

Dealt to me: 10 7 off

Pre-flop:
They raise to $60, I call $40
[At this early stage I’m not sure what they could have, but probably a pocket pair or Ax. I decide to call and just see. If I miss the flop I’d probably check-fold]

Flop: ($120) Q 10 7
I bet $80, they call $80
[Oh yeah, I was feeling good here. Pretty sure I had the better hand.]

Turn: ($280) K
I bet $200, they call $200
[Now I’m getting a little worried. Ax has a straight draw and the chance of trips or a higher two pair are increased. However, I still think I’m ahead]

River: ($680) J

At this point any Ax hand has made a straight. Chances are I’m probably behind. A bet could be justified just to see if there is any resistance, but it would have to be fairly large in terms of my stack. Probably the worst possible action is to go all-in. In that situation my opponent would probably fold if I was ahead and call if I was behind.

I went all-in, they had A9s and the game was over. I knew going all-in was a bad decision before I did it, but that didn’t stop me. Why? This is an egregious example, but certainly not an isolated example. I do this all the time. Just a few days earlier I was in a 3000 person tournament (it was free to enter) where the top 10% won money. After playing very well for over an hour there were 360 players left – a number decreasing at a 5/minute rate. With a nearly 30BB stack, I had over double the average. I could probably have just walked away from my laptop and still made the money. Instead I blew it all in 3 consecutive hands. The first hand was an acceptable loss, the other guy got lucky with his 3 outer on the river. The second was bad and the third was awful.

I’m getting the impression poker is a game of gathering information. You start with knowledge of your hole cards, but no knowledge of your adversary’s cards or the community cards to come. You need to gain information for the least cost and greatest gain – goals which are often opposed. When all-in there is no possibility of gaining more information; your opponent has all the choices. Rarely will they call with a bad hand. There are occasions when it is good to go all in: if you have the best possible hand and your opponent is still betting big; or preflop if you have a very good hand and have a stack several times your opponent’s. In general I think it is a tactic to be used sparingly. I wrote that last sentence as a note to myself over a month ago, I know better than to go all-in on what is bearly more than a whim.

If I know better, why do I keep making these obvious mistakes. I have a few ideas. It could be the thrill of catching a bluff, or it could be a lack of patience, or trying to dominate a game and refusing to acknowledge a losing hand. However, I have no problem concentrating for hours at a time in other areas of my life. I’m aware that my opponent will have the best hand 50% of the time on average and that luck plays a large part in poker, so controlling it is hard. Also, I tend to play well if I’m ahead or grinding out a game. Thus, while all the above may play a part I think it may be caused by losing interest if the game isn’t going in my favour – sometimes this manifests itself as an all-in and sometimes as generally bad play.

I think when not tilting I’m an ok player, but definitely not a good player. When I read other online posts they are thinking about things that don’t occur to me during the 30 seconds I have to make a decision in an online game. However, I don’t think that matters until I get over the tilt problem and go up a level to better opponents. That is why this matters to me and I’m writing a long blog post about it. If it was just a matter of not knowing the game well enough I could leave it. It would be a matter of accepting the game would take too long to learn well. Instead, I consider it a personal flaw that I’m not able to stay rational and maintain concentration until the end of the game. I want to beat the flaw, then I can decide whether I want to beat the game.

Having read a couple of online articles on overcoming tilt, they suggest: identifying when tilt is occurring; stop playing when tilting; overcome the origins of the tilt. I can identify my tilt, so the first step is covered. Stopping play is harder because when I lose as a result of tilting I want to play more, whereas when I win I’m happy to stop (is that normal?). I just have to force myself to stop for an hour at least, which would normally mean I don’t play again that day. Another part of this is to not set goals around amount won or games to play. I have noticed my tilting gets worse if I feel some pressure to play, regardless of whether I am on track to meet the goal or not. I need to play only if I want to for my own pleasure. To that end I will not play online for a while to build my interest again. Lastly, I need to focus on logical play. Reading online postings to see how other players think through hands will help. Similarly with reading the hand histories of my own games – it’s a bit like rubbing my nose in it:) I won’t set any plans or goals around overcoming tilt, just keep a record of how I perform.

Onward!


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